Africa File

A biweekly analysis and assessment of the Salafi-jihadi movement in Africa and related security and political dynamics.   Each edition begins "At a Glance." Country-specific updates follow.{{authorBox.message}}

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Ethiopia Crisis Update: Ethiopian federal forces’ campaign to weaken the TPLF’s military capabilities is affecting civilian areas

[Notice: The Critical Threats Project frequently cites sources from foreign domains. All such links are identified with an asterisk (*) for the reader's awareness.]

Ethiopian federal forces are attempting to degrade Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) forces’ military capability with air strikes on the Tigray regional capital. The TPLF accused federal forces of targeting a university in the Tigray capital, Mekelle, on November 19. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s administration has said that it only strikes military targets and accused the TPLF of storing military equipment in civilian areas, including religious institutions and schools.

The air strikes are likely intended to weaken the TPLF militarily as federal and allied forces attempt to advance toward Mekelle on multiple fronts. Abiy announced a “final” phase of operations in Tigray on November 17. Fighting and air strikes inside Mekelle increase the likelihood of greater civilian harm.

 The TPLF again fired a rocket into neighboring Amhara regional state in retaliation for Amharan forces’ participation in the Tigray conflict. The TPLF fired a rocket toward Amhara’s regional capital, Bahir Dar, for the second time this month on November 20. The fighting between Tigray and Amhara regional forces risks reviving a land dispute between the neighboring regions.

Abiy is pressuring international organizations to isolate the TPLF. He accused the Tigrayan head of the World Health Organization, Adhanom Ghebreyesus, of attempting to supply the TPLF with weapons on November 19. Ghebreyesus denied the claim. Abiy successfully pressured the African Union to sack its Tigrayan security chief on November 11.

 Abiy’s administration continues to suppress press coverage of the Tigray conflict. The Ethiopian Broadcasting Authority suspended the press license of an in-country Reuter’s correspondent on accusations of false and biased reporting. It also *threatened to take similar action against other international media outlets, including the BBC.

The humanitarian situation continues to deteriorate. More than 30,000 Ethiopian refugees have crossed into Sudan from Tigray since early November, the greatest influx of refugees into eastern Sudan in over 20 years. The UN called for an immediate temporary cease-fire in Ethiopia on November 20. It also urged establishing corridors to allow humanitarian aid workers access to civilians in need.

Ethiopia Crisis Update: Ethiopian forces to advance on Tigray regional capital

[Notice: The Critical Threats Project frequently cites sources from foreign domains. All such links are identified with an asterisk (*) for the reader's awareness.]

Ethiopian forces are positioned in Eritrea to support the military campaign in Tigray region in northern Ethiopia. While military movements remain difficult to confirm in open-source media, a range of outlets have begun to report on the presence of Ethiopian forces in Eritrea. Ethiopian federal troops are *present in Eritrean cities, including the capital Asmara, and have been *passing through Asmara’s airport for several weeks. The Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) launched a rocket targeting Asmara airport in retaliation on November 14. Ethiopian troops are also *present in Eritrea along the Tigrayan border. Eritrean locals *were forced to feed Ethiopian troops that fled a federal military base in the Tigray capital, Mekelle, in early November.

The deployment through Eritrea may be intended to help Ethiopian forces strike a decisive blow against the TPLF. Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed declared a “final” military phase in Tigray following the expiration of an ultimatum for the TPLF’s surrender on November 17. Federal and allied forces have since seized several towns west and south of Mekelle. The TPLF attributed these losses to changing its defense line. The federal forces’ advance, coupled with a possible military build-up in Eritrea north of the city, suggest that Ethiopia’s government will attack Mekelle in the coming days. Ethiopian forces likely seek to encircle Mekelle, which houses a key federal military base, to weaken TPLF forces.

Ethiopia Crisis Update: Salafi-jihadi militants attempt to exploit Ethiopia crisis

[Notice: The Critical Threats Project frequently cites sources from foreign domains. All such links are identified with an asterisk (*) for the reader's awareness.]

Salafi-jihadi militants are exploiting the growing security vacuum in Ethiopia. Ethiopia’s intelligence service claimed to have arrested 14 militants linked to either al Qaeda affiliate al Shabaab or the Islamic State on November 14 for plotting attacks across Ethiopia, including in the capital. The agency *said the militants were taking advantage of the federal government’s preoccupation with the Tigray region conflict.

Aspects of the reported arrest are suspect, however. One of the militants named in the recent reporting was previously *arrested and convicted and should have likely still been in *prison. Alternately, this individual may have escaped or been released, or another individual with the same name may be involved in the latest attack plot.

Ethiopian security forces previously arrested Salafi-jihadi militants plotting attacks in Ethiopia in September 2019, likely in a bid to exploit increasing ethic violence and the fraught political transition at the time. Such factors are present in Ethiopia’s current conflict.

Ethiopia’s conflict is increasingly regionalizing with an attack on Eritrea’s capital. Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) forces launched rockets toward an airport in the Eritrean capital, Asmara, on November 14. A TPLF official said the attack was retaliation for Eritrean involvement in Tigray and threatened additional attacks. The Eritrean government has not commented on the attacks thus far. Sudan could become entangled in the conflict should its government use potential support for the TPLF as leverage in a land dispute with Ethiopia.

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